Nutrition Notes

Micronutrients to Support the Autoimmune Response

Autoimmune conditions are believed to influence up to 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. Some evidence indicates that the incidence of autoimmune conditions may be increasing. Recent research suggests that some micronutrients may support health in the presence of certain autoimmune conditions. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive, systemic autoimmune disease characterized by joint involvement and destruction of bone and cartilage. The inflammatory response and increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) may play roles in RA. Research suggests that pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-17, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), may be elevated in the presence of RA. TNF-α is believed to be one of the major reasons for cartilage degradation and joint inflammation in RA. 

Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found in grape skins, dark berries, and peanuts, and it has been shown to help support a normal inflammatory response. It also acts to support antioxidative status by targeting the transcription factor nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor (Nrf2) and helping to support antioxidant protein expression and the mitochondrial generation of ROS. Resveratrol may also help modulate cyclooxygenase (COX)-1, COX-2, prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB). 

A recently published systematic review by Karimi and colleagues explored studies involving the potential efficacy of resveratrol in the presence of RA. The authors postulate that resveratrol may help support the inflammatory response and antioxidative status in the presence of RA through its ability to help modulate Nrf2. It also may help inhibit certain pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6, through the Janus kinase/signal transducer and activator of transcription protein/receptor activator of NF-κΒ ligand (JAK/STAT/RANKL) pathway. The JAK/STAT pathway is believed to play a role in bone loss related to RA. 

A laboratory study involving human chondrocytes indicated that resveratrol helped activate sirtuin 1 (Sirt1) and inhibit the expression of TNF-β. In an animal study involving RA models, the expression of IL-17 was shown to decrease in the presence of resveratrol. Other RA animal studies showed that resveratrol helped attenuate autophagy and helped modulate certain T cell and macrophage responses. The authors report that more studies of human populations are needed. 

Vitamin D has also been shown to play a role in autoimmune conditions including RA. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and flavonoids such as genistein may support the body’s response to inflammation and help support a healthy immune response. Genistein has been shown to help inhibit IL-1β, TNF-α, and matrix metalloproteinase-9 in synoviocytes in the presence of RA. 

Although more research is needed before conclusions can be made, evidence indicates that certain micronutrients may help support the body’s response to inflammation and oxidative stress. Micronutrients, such as resveratrol and genistein, may also support a healthy immune response. 

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT